The main instruments available under international law for countries to collaborate on a broad range of global environmental challenges are international conventions and treaties on environment and natural resources also known as Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs).
MEAs are agreements between states which may take the form of “soft-law”, setting out non legally-binding principles which parties are obligated to consider when taking actions to address a particular environmental issue, or “hard-law” which specify legally-binding actions to be undertaken toward an environmental objective.
Amongst the global environmental issues that MEAs are designed to respond to include: loss of biological diversity, adverse impacts of Climate Change, depletion of the ozone layer, hazardous waste, organic pollutants, marine pollution, trade in endangered species, destruction of wetlands, etc.
The EAC Partner States have signed and ratified several International Conventions and Treaties including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB); the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, and the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD) among others.
Biosafety in EAC
All the East African Community (EAC) Partner States have ratified the Cartagena Protocol, an international agreement which aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, while also taking into account risks to human health. The EAC Partner States are at different stages of establishing national biosafety frameworks.
To harmonise biosafety policies, national and regional consultations on biosafety were finalised in Partner States in November 2013. National and Regional priorities on biosafety were identified and a road map for developing the EAC Biosafety Policy Framework prepared. Mechanisms to enhance regional information sharing including the establishment of a regional biosafety clearing house to facilitate decision making, promote compliance and capacity building are ongoing.
National focal points for biosafety are in place and these are located at the Council for Science and Technology, Vice President’s office and at the Ministry of Water and Environment in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda respectively. In addition, the countries have developed systems to handle requests for introduction of GMOs into the environment, a mechanism for monitoring, inspection and enforcement as well as streamlining the roles and responsibilities of the concerned institutions. Other involved institutions include the Phytosanitary bodies, Ministries of Agriculture, Health, Trade and Industry, National Bureaux of Standards, National Agricultural Research Systems among others.
Regional biosafety consultations held in November 2013 identified priorities to guide the development of a regional biotechnology and biosafety framework:
- Formulation of a harmonised regional biotechnology and biosafety policy to inform decision making on GMOs
- Establishment of a regional biotechnology and biosafety unit at the EAC
- Need for resource mobilisation to support capacity building - human, infrastructure and institutional
- Strategies for public education, participation, awareness in biotechnology and biosafety
- Develop a framework for a harmonised regional approach to global negotiations in biotechnology and biosafety
- Establishment of a Panel of Experts (PoE) to guide biosafety decision making and give risk assessment opinions
- Establishment of EAC Centres of Excellence in biotechnology and biosafety
In 2002, the EAC Heads of State Summit took a decision that EAC should negotiate regional and multilateral issues as a bloc. The draft Framework for Joint Participation in and Implementation of Regional and Multilateral Environment Agreements (MEAs) was finalised. The aim of the Framework is to guide the EAC Partner States in the implementation of various multilateral environmental agreements that the Partner States are party to.
The process of institutionalising EAC’s Joint Participation in International Conventions and Treaties on Environment and Natural Resources Management is ongoing. To implement the outcome of the Rio Summit on Sustainable Development: The Future We Want, an EAC Post-Rio+20 Plan of Action was developed and approved by the EAC Council of Ministers. Technical preparations, including development of regional position papers in readiness for international policy discourse on Biological Diversity, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction under the UN CBD, the UNFCCC and the Hyogo Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction are ongoing. Development of the strategy to combat poaching and illegal Trade in wildlife and wildlife products is underway.
As an accredited observer organisation to the UNFCCC since December 2012, the EAC Secretariat supports the effective preparations for the regional and international policy forums, particularly the UNFCCC. The Secretariat organises annual national and regional preparatory meetings to identify Climate Change priorities and develop Climate Change position papers to inform national and regional engagement during the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC and Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.
In collaboration with COMESA, SADC and the African Union Commission through the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, EAC has been working to consolidate a unified African position on Climate Change as a basis for the Africa Group of Negotiators under the UNFCCC. As a result, the capacity of African Negotiators to articulate Africa's position within the UNFCCC has been strengthened.